I scanned my newsfeed. Amidst the funny videos and pictures of food lay the landmine posts of arguments being hotly debated. I learned the hard way not to attend every debate I’m invited to. Too often the issues aren’t open for discussion. The positions are firmly held. They reflect different ways of viewing the world.
That’s true for all of us, isn’t it? What we value and how we act is determined by how we understand the world works. Until that understanding is changed, we won’t change our views, our values or our actions.
Jesus gives us his perspective on how the world – and eternity – works. As we take it on board, it provides three motivations that mark his disciples
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. - Matthew 16:25-27.
The First Motivation: Profitable Investment
“…save their life will lose it… loses their life… will find it.” (v.25)
The word “life” is used in two different ways in this sentence. There is the physical or material life. And then there is an eternal, spiritual life. We can spend every waking hour of our physical life ensuring we have everything we need to maintain our lifestyle, social standing and future security but Jesus points out that we end up spending more than we gain. At the end, we’ll be left with nothing. In contrast, whoever spends their lives on things of eternal value – their relationship with God and the life of others – will finish with untold riches.
Thirty years ago, I worked for one of the big four accounting firms. I spent forty, fifty or sixty hours a week serving clients while being paid a generous salary. I took some of the money I was paid and bought a new computer. Where is that computer now? It was sent to the scrap heap a long time ago. I exchanged hours of my life for something that is now junk.
During that same time, I invested time in studying God’s Word and in discipling others. And that investment has paid dividends!
The Second Motivation: Invaluable Life
“…in exchange for their soul?” (v.26)
The word translated “soul” here is the same word translated as “life” in the previous verse. But the point is different. There it was about saving or losing your life. Here it is contrasting the value of material things with the value of a human soul.
In the 2017 movie “All the Money in the World” the richest man in the world, J. Paul Getty, refuses to pay a ransom to free his grandson from kidnappers. It seems extraordinary that this man valued his money over his family.
If I refused to give up all my worldly possessions – my house, my car, my superannuation – in order to save my son from kidnappers, you would call me cruel and callous. We know instinctively that a human life is priceless.
Imagine getting to the end of your life and trying to bargain with God, “I’ll give you my house, my investments and my car if you will just let me start my life over again as a baby.” It’s ridiculous! It’s impossible!
So, as Jesus’ disciple, we need to put the right price tag on things. Eternal life: priceless. The rest of the material world: bargain bin. Don’t pay full price for things that will become junk. Invest in the priceless.
The Third Motivation: Preparing for the Life to Come
“…the Son of Man is going to come…” (v.27)
This motivation is based on the view that after this life there is more to come. In fact, if we read this sentence considering Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), we understand that this life is a set up for the life to come.
Racing drivers try to qualify for poll position by getting their best time in the time trials. They don’t drive like tourists. They drive fast, knowing that the real race is yet to come. In the same way, this life is, according to Jesus, the time trial for the real race to come in the next life.
Some people think that life after death is like retiring to travel on a cruise ship. You will have a comfortable cabin, access to the all-you-can-eat buffet and 24/7 entertainment. But the picture Jesus paints in the parable, and elsewhere, is of a great adventure where we get to serve him in the new creation without the frustration of sin, brokenness and rebellion.
As we listen to Jesus, take on board his teaching and obey it, we will find our motivation for following him will change.